Tennessee news briefs

Tennessee news briefs

Posted: Friday, February 4, 2011 8:01 pm

Va. man charged in snake bite death investigation
CHATTANOOGA (AP) — Wildlife officers investigating a snake bite death arrested a Virginia man Thursday and confiscated 12 live poisonous snakes and a cooler that contained up to 100 frozen dead ones.
Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency spokesman Dan Hicks said 38-year-old Samuel Charles Hurd of Gate City, Va., was charged with 48 misdemeanor counts that include possessing dangerous wildlife.
Wade Westbrook of East Bridge died Saturday from a severe allergic reaction after he was bitten by a copperhead that he was handling. Hicks said the 12 live snakes that were in Hurd’s possession in the same area near Chattanooga had been secretly removed from Westbrook’s property but the charges are not related to the death.
“They were friends,” Hicks said. “We can’t connect him (Hurd) with providing the snake at this time.”
Hurd was released on a self-recognizance bond pending a Monday court hearing in Chattanooga. A jail officer said there was no record of him having a lawyer.
Westbrook was experienced with handling snakes and had been bitten by a copperhead previously. A snake expert said that likely made him more sensitive to the venom.
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House panel passes Memphis schools’ merger bill
NASHVILLE (AP) — Supporters of a measure that would give Memphis schools more time to make a transitional plan if city voters decide to let their school system be merged with the Shelby County system said Thursday that their motivation is not political.
The House Finance Committee approved the legislation on a voice vote a day after the Senate Education Committee passed a similar version and sent it to the full Senate. The companion bill is headed to the House floor.
The Memphis City School Board voted Dec. 20 to let city voters decide in a March 8 special election whether the troubled city schools should merge with the county’s. A consolidated school system would have 150,000 students, with the county in charge.
The city board’s move has met resistance from county school officials, who want a countywide vote. Suburban state lawmakers have tried to get approval of a special school district for Shelby County Schools, which would freeze the district’s current boundaries in the suburbs around Memphis and prevent a merger.
City school board member Martavius Jones, who led the move to surrender the city board charter, said he wanted “to ensure the long-term funding stability of Memphis City Schools” in case Shelby County Schools ever got such a status.
He said current law states that property owners who live in special school district areas are required to pay property taxes to support those school districts.
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Hospice counseling among possible TennCare cuts
NASHVILLE (AP) — Counseling services to hospice patients and their families that are now provided by the state’s expanded Medicaid program could be eliminated under potential TennCare cuts, state officials said in budget hearings with Republican Gov. Bill Haslam on Thursday.
Hospice patients would still be eligible for medical services such as pain control, home health and physician care. But the state would save about $14 million by doing away with the counseling services, which would also erase a $29 million federal match.
“Obviously we believe that hospice is a very good benefit, and we would never be considering a cut like this if we weren’t faced with the compounded effect of significant cuts that have been made over a multiyear period,” said Wendy Long, TennCare’s chief medical officer.
Long said officials dismissed alternative ways to find equivalent savings in areas considered “optional” by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, like the entire pharmacy benefit or prosthetic limbs for amputees.
“At the end of the day we concluded that eliminating the hospice benefit was the least objectionable option among several highly undesirable alternatives,” she said.
The hospice cuts would be in addition to TennCare’s previously announced plan to cut $103 million in state spending to make up for the loss of federal stimulus money and other reimbursements. Most of those savings would be achieved by setting an annual cap of eight visits to most doctors and hospitals.
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FDA sued over shipments of drug used in executions
A federal lawsuit filed against the Food and Drug Administration urges a judge to block imports of a key drug used in the nation’s executions that has been in short supply since the sole U.S. maker decided to stop producing it.
The lawsuit filed Wednesday in federal court in Washington, D.C., claims the FDA has knowingly allowed state corrections officials to import sodium thiopental, the sedative used in a three-drug execution cocktail, that has not been approved by the agency.
“It just seems wrong to allow these suspect goods into the country in violation of federal law just because they’re used on prisoners rather than law-abiding citizens,” said Brad Berenson, the attorney who filed the lawsuit on behalf of death row inmates in California, Arizona and Tennessee.
The shortage has delayed executions in several states, and an Associated Press review found that at least five states — Arizona, Arkansas, California, Georgia and Tennessee — had to turn to England for their supply of the drug. Nebraska, meanwhile, secured a stockpile from an Indian firm.
The lawsuit claims the FDA is neglecting its duty to inspect shipments of sodium thiopental, noting that there are no FDA-approved overseas manufacturers of the drug.
“From our perspective, the FDA has the obligation to make sure the anesthetic works whether it’s used in a lethal injection or used in surgeries,” Berenson said. “In each case, the purpose is the same — to relieve pain and suffering.”

Published in The Messenger 2.4.11

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